Monday, 23 March 2009

Tomatoes, chimneys and seagulls: An introduction to sporting philosophy

Post-match interviews and press conferences are often seen as the pinnacle of sporting figures’ capacity for dullness. Brian O’Driscoll, the Irish rugby union captain, however, bucked this trend in peculiar fashion during this year's Six Nations championship.

In a press conference held before Ireland’s match against England, O’Driscoll was asked about playing alongside Martin Johnson for the British and Irish Lions, and facing him as opposition. The centre’s reply was wilfully cryptic: “Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad.” It is unconfirmed whether this turn of phrase was a part of O’Driscoll’s team talk.

Meanwhile, flying the flag for footballing idiosyncrasies is Juventus manager Claudio Ranieri, who when faced with the sack at Chelsea in 2004, remarked, “Before you kill me, you call me the "dead man walking." I must buy you an espresso. But only a little one - I am Scottish!”

This particular trail of managerial misquoting is one blazed by many before Ranieri; none more so than Kevin Keegan, who said of decision-making processes, “It is understandable that people are keeping one eye on the pot and another up the chimney.” Read this sentence repeatedly for a day, and the word “understandable” still seems somewhat misplaced.

O’Driscoll’s enigmatic assessment is reminiscent of Eric Cantona’s famous foray into philosophy. Addressing the press in the wake of his kung-fu kick on a Crystal Palace, the former French international said that, "when the seagulls follow the trawler, it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea." As of yet, the forward-turned-actor’s profundity is one which has yet to have been matched by anybody at Old Trafford.

The aforementioned examples should illustrate how sport and philosophy are not as incongruous a pairing as one might first assume. To those still unconvinced, the great Algerian philosopher Albert Camus offers a definitive final thought: “All I know most surely about morality and obligations, I owe to football.”

As written for Leeds Student

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